December 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Donna Terek: Donna's Detroit

From Indy to Detroit, 'fowling' winning fans as tailgate pastime

Just Fowling Around
Just Fowling Around: Fowling is a combination of football, horseshoes and bowling, and it's the perfect sport for tailgating.

It's a combination of football, horseshoes and bowling, and its invention was an accident.

It's called fowling. But it has nothing to do with birds. Pronunciation tip: It rhymes with bowling not growling.

It's become a fond pastime of tailgaters in Detroit and Indianapolis, thanks to Ferndale's Chris Hutt. "Chutt," as he's known to his friends, travels to the Indianapolis 500 every year with a large group of 30 to 50 racing fans. Every year he tries to come up with a tailgating activity for the group. One year it was a full-size Price Is Right Plinko board, another it was a duck-racing moat in a replica of the Indy track.

Then, in 2001, he and his friends built a bowling alley in the Indy RV parking lot, "but our project was a failure," he says. The bowling balls smashed right through the backstop into their neighbors.

"We were trying to impress them, not injure them." says Chutt. They gave up and chilled out with a game of catch with a football. A stray ball crashed into the bowling lane, knocking down the pins and "we had our eureka! moment."

Fowling was born.

Since then, fowling at Indy has grown more and more popular until last year, the friends had 80 teams sign up for their tournament. After about three years fowling at Indy, Hutt decided to try fowling at home in Detroit at parks and parties, and eventually as a tailgating activity downtown.

You can find Chutt with the black school bus he takes to Indy and his fowling setup in the Greater Detroit Cab Company lot before Lions home games, on Tigers opening day and before major concerts at Comerica Park or Ford Field. The lot is on the I-75 Service Drive next to Harry's Bar.

Chutt's website — whatsfowling.com — lists upcoming events, as well as the rules of fowling. It even gives instructions for building your own lanes because Chutt prefers people to get the game right rather than guessing.

His tailgating game has two lanes with 10 bowling pins at either end of each lane. Players can fowl singly or as teams. The aim is to throw the football the 48-foot length of the lane and knock down the pins on your opponent's side. Fowling shares the etiquette of ping pong and pool tables; the losing team relinquishes its lane to the next contenders in line.

When asked if he sees this as a business, Chris says, "I'm working that way." During tailgates, he asks for a donation toward renting the 10 parking spots the game occupies. If he comes up short that's okay; he may make up the difference renting the setup for parties. "Graduation parties are a big one," he says. He also builds and sells lanes.

He has a full-time job with a commercial brick supply company, but fowling is his love and his goal is to find the right building in Detroit to house the first legitimate fowling alley. He's already incorporated and is actively looking for space.

He says the game sells itself. And you don't need football experience to be good at it. Women often think they can't play, but "there's a lot of wives who beat their husbands all the time," he says. "And it's fun to watch."

The game has been part of life for Laura Sullivan of Sterling Heights, who has been fowling since its invention at the Indy 500 12 years ago. Friends surprised her with a fowling alley as a wedding gift, so bride, groom and guests fowled at their rehearsal dinner. "I fowl with my husband," she says. "I'm definitely better than he is. But he is getting better."

"It's funny to watch the evolution of a new fowler," says Hutt. "You've got the Joe Quarterback guys who think they're going to be really good at this game. But it doesn't take long before they realize that throwing it hard isn't the answer; throwing it accurate(ly) is."

Chris Hutt runs his fowling game during Lions tailgating in downtown Detroit. / Donna Terek/ The Detroit News
Chris Hutt, rear left, says Laura Sullivan of Sterling Heights, is ... (Donna Terek/ The Detroit News)